Butterflies bring the freezing air

I’m going to talk about anxiety, my anxiety.

Not the normal kind, you know, that feeling you get before a job interview or when you’re trying to figure out if you should have the steak or the fish at a restaurant. I mean the kind of anxiety that has every cell in your body ringing, so that lying still feels like being in an earthquake.

It’s a debilitating feeling.

It feels like butterflies beating their wings in my throat so hard, it sucks the frozen winds from the North and South into the pit of my stomach. It’s anticipation for something that’s not there, for events that aren’t happening. It’s nervous, high-frequency hum of energy, bouncing off the walls of a sealed room. It is a scream into a void, and unless I put every scrap of my physical and mental efforts into being still – completely still – I am surely going to explode into a supernova of nervous energy and butterfly wings.

Chaos in a locked box of white-knuckles and clenched teeth.

The worst part about my anxiety is that when it’s at its worst, it becomes invisible to everyone in the world, except me.

My depression is different; that black dog sits heavily, and everyone can see when it’s at my side. Depression keeps me in bed all day, or I walk around like a zombie; red-rimmed eyes, cheeks wet with tears. I’m visible when I’m depressed. People ask me what’s wrong. I don’t feel as alone as I do when my anxiety kicks in.

When my anxiety is at its worst, those tiny butterfly wings have beaten so hard the air crystallizes, and I freeze from the inside-out. I am left staring blankly at a screen, every word leaving me. My to-do list grows, unrepentant. Dishes pile up, floors collect dust bunnies, clothes stay in the hamper. Spiders weave webs in door frames. I am a poor mother and terrible at keeping house. It sees me endlessly scrolling Facebook and Instagram and various news websites, refreshing feeds over and over. Binge-watching Netflix until that message asking if I’m still watching flashes up on the screen.

Considering I haven’t been able to move from the couch for six and a half hours, yes, I’m still watching.

At its worst, my anxiety has me losing feeling in my fingers and lips, a burnt smell in my nostrils and a racing heart, beating in time with those butterfly wings. My mind races too, full of thoughts but at the same time no thought I can hold onto. Formless ideas, thoughts, fears, and all running a million miles a second.

At its worst, I am frozen and yet never still.

If you or someone you know is in distress, please access the mental health resources page or call Lifeline on 13 11 14. If you are in immediate danger, please call 000.